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Road review at Leeds Playhouse – ‘an undercurrent of rage’

Lladel Bryant in Road at Leeds Playhouse. Photo: Kirsten McTernan
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Things are changing in West Yorkshire. As well as a rebrand of the theatre to Leeds Playhouse, it’s also undergoing a major refurbishment that will see it closed for the best part of a year. So, in its absence, the Playhouse has set up a temporary ‘pop-up’ space and employed a 10-strong repertory company to perform in each production.

A revival of Jim Cartwright’s Road is the first of these productions. Director Amy Leach shows it to be as powerfully relevant as it was more than 30 years ago.

Cartwright’s play is a patchwork quilt of scenes and monologues about the residents of one northern road, who have been battered and bruised by Thatcherism, poverty and unemployment.

Leach’s cast makes Cartwright’s poetic dialogue take flight, as ne’er-do-well Scullery (played with devilish charm by Joe Alessi) acts as the audience’s guide. Across Hayley Grindle’s beautifully detailed split-level set, each resident appears: the violent skinhead turned Buddhist, the alcoholic mother, a man wishing to relive his happier past.

These stories are often bleakly funny, something emphasised by the well-handled audience interaction, but there’s always an undercurrent of rage and desperation bubbling away beneath the humour.

It’s that desperation that resonates, especially in the final scene, where the constant refrain of “somehow I might escape” echoes around the space. Road is a play for lovers of language; Cartwright gives his casualties of austerity an eloquence and poetic fury that bridges the years.

Leeds Playhouse sets up 10-strong rep company for pop-up theatre season

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Jim Cartwright's classic state of the nation play is given a new lease of life in Leeds